Aurélien Vret is an artist who, for the first time, publishes a typeface. His approach is not usual, it does not fit into the usual patterns of the type designer, graphic designer in parallel. In fact, it seemed interesting to understand his background and to understand the interaction of his different activities. He published Prosaic with Typofonderie in 2017 after a few years of hard work on this project. He answers the questions of Jean François Porchez…
How do you define yourself?
I am a multidisciplinary artist. I like working as much with image as typography. My inspirations are multiple and cross different currents in the history of art. I am attentive to the production of artists who make dialogue between these two aspects such as Albrecht Dürer, Theo Van Doesburg, Ed Ruscha, Josef Albers, On Kawara or Lawrence Weiner … My typographic influences lie in this broad historical approach.
I am interested by typographers sensitive to the technological changes of their era such as Nicolas Jenson, Giambattista Bodoni, or more contemporary typeface designers such as Adrian Frutiger or Matthew Carter. Contemporary Dutch graphic design and typography are part of my references. Gerrit Noordzij’s reflections on the layout of letters, Jan Van Toorn’s highly politicized graphic design, or the production of the Underware typefoundry have left a strong influence on my work.
Théo Van Doesburg, sketch of the cover of Klei magazine, mixed media on paper, 1920 & Spontaneous counter-composition, oil on canvas, 50 × 50 cm, 1930.
How does being a multidisciplinary artist change the way you approach type design?
This approach requires a wider view and pushes a different view of Design. The formal idea that gives birth to the typographic object comes rather earlier in the process, than the taking into account of needs. I do not try to respond to a brief but to create an object that fits into its time, taking into account the current technologics state. Because of this, I am very interested in Theo Van Doesburg works. His approach to architecture and typography was directly confronted with the technical production of the objects he had imagined. My approach to a project imposes a certain intellectual gymnastics between formal experimentation and technical integration according to current production standards imposed by digital typography. We have to constantly questionning the right balance between normalization and innovative shapes.
We live in an increasingly information dominated environment. The knowledge economy is in constant development. In this context, typography has a completely new position. This can be seen in the work of contemporary artists. The visual arts rely more and more on the texts and the way in which they’re represented. Instead of using existing typefaces, I make my own graphic tools that I use in my works. I have sought to go further by collaborating with a professional foundry that will subsequently allow other designers to use these typographical characters.
Prosaic proofs with annotations by Jean François Porchez, April 2013. In orange, the final version in comparaison.
Typography and artistic production, how does it work?
Typography represents a universe still mysterious to the art world and often passes for an austere and difficult to access discipline. Yet I see many contemporary artists using it daily to produce works, or to make their own typographic forms.
My approach to designing typefaces is similar to that of Jasper Morrison, or the duo of Japanese architects gathered in the Bow Wow workshop. François Chastanet’s researches on urban writing, which was my instructor at the Beaux-Arts de Toulouse (Isdat), served me as a model in the context of typography. I like to start from the field, to photograph the way in which letters are used in the urban space to find new graphic shapes. It is an empirical approach based on shapes that arise out of contexts disconnected from official graphic and typographical traditions; Whether historical or contemporary. This is in the continuity of my more general visual approach, I work only from existing elements.
Aurélien Vret, series Color Index, digital typography and acrylic on two polyester fabric, 1 m 30 × 81 cm, Focale exhibition, Plasma Collective, JedVoras Gallery, Paris, 2016.
In everyday life, artistic creation and type design do they mix?
Since I finished my bachelor in arts my activity has been organized around a division of time in which typeface design occupies on average a third of my time. I draw typefaces in the morning. It is also an opportunity to look at the news of the day and to deal with current projets updates. Type design imposes a certain day to day routine. This allows me to reflect on the rest of my work. The afternoon and night are conducive to the production of works and painting.
I draw my typefaces focusing particularly on the shape of the letters strokes. That is to say taking into account the typographic origin of the writing that I wish to freeze. I do not think in terms of contours nor in terms of the skeleton, but rather in terms of the form that each strokes impulse on the letterform. The geometry of the stroke, as it has been theorized by Gerrit Noordzij, serves as a conceptual model for designing and anticipating lettershapes. At the same time, there are many constraints imposed by the Bézier curves retranscription of the glyphes. I learned a lot alongside you, and you gave me more confidence in the perception of contrasts, proportions and the consistency of the various elements on the scale of a complete typeface.
Aurélien Vret, paintings & drawings, 2014-2017.
Can you tell us more about the Prosaic project?
This project was born in François Chastanet’s studio of typography at Fine Arts Toulouse academy (Isdat). It is the result of a research project on urban scriptures and the protesting signs. I developed a handwriting that attempted to recreate with the brush the morphological characteristics of signage typeface like Frutiger. I voluntarily chose to break the calligraphic ductus imposed by the direct stroke of the pen. At the time I lived in the countryside of Toulouse. It was by going to the Fine Arts academy every day that I noticed in the peri-urban areas the typographic production visible on the roadside. I took pictures of these hand-made signs regularly to integrate them into my graduation project (DNSEP). The link between workshop experiments and urban writing became evident to become the core of the project.
I began to draw this new typeface in reference to Roger Excoffon’s Antique Olive and Adrian Frutiger’s Vectora. Type families that are characterized by a disproportionate x-height! Later, I discovered Fenland designed by Jeremy Tankard, and added Evert Bloemsma’s Legato on my references. These two last influences allowed me to better integrate the irregularity of the original writing through different weights. This link with the work of Jeremy Tankard, makes me possible to reconcile hybrid typefaces with multiple references. This typeface repeats in his own way what American Post-Modernism experimented in the 1980s. It relies on the vernacular writings as photographed by Ed Fella, and he develops an iconoclastic penchant of a Scott Makela.
Aurélien Vret, 18:56, Night Proxemic, 40 × 40 cm, oil on canvas, 2015.
Aurélien Vret. Extract from diploma project, 2009.
Prosaic proofs with annotations by Jean François Porchez, September 2014.
Which statement, seven years later?
I must admit to being surprised at the result, to have succeeded in carrying out the project started in 2010. After Fine Arts diploma project, I found myself in a sort of impasse. I had imagined a handwriting that I wanted to diffuse freely, while continuing to improve its forms. Working with you I was able to measure the gap between the knowledge acquired during my graduate studies and the reality of professional typeface design. We have accomplished a colossal job, from organizing weights to adapting the initial concept to the full set of the family. I realized, why good spacing is fundamental for a good typographic texture. When I compare the first tests and the result seven years later, I measure the need to find a way to go to the basics in character creation.
However, Typofonderie has always respected the objective I set myself when I proposed this project: keep the initial references. Starting from the initial concept while working on drawings, so to speak, industrialized. My collaboration with Typofonderie went very well. It is a warm, human-scale foundry. The team ensures a real follow-up of the project on the longterm.
Did you imagine a typical use of your typeface?
This new typeface has a strong visual presence that suits multiple scales of size. It is suitable for signage design, strong cultural identities. It is a versatile sans serif. Like Frutiger, Prosaic also works very well in everyday texts. Like its many influences, it can be seen as a Swiss knife that will suit a wide range of uses. Since writing is underlying in the forms of glyphs, it is always possible to use it as a reference to draw letters with a brush.
Do you have a typeface on the work?
Yes, many! I’m working on a typeface inspired by the neon signs. In parallel, I embarked on a vast project of digital art that combines interpolated gothics sans associated with facial recognition algorithms. After obtaining a DICRéAM scholarship, I continue this digital project in collaboration with Le Cube of Issy-les-Moulineaux. It is an extraordinary research project that attempts to imagine the future of publishing and typeface design through the automation of the diffusion of content.
Aurélien Vret, glass tube, digital typography in OpenType format, & Synthetic Night, cover of an artist’s edition, 17.9 × 25.3 cm, pigment ink on black paper, 2016.
Aurélien Vret, Robot, digital typography in OpenType format, & Portrait Robot, digital work: face detector, citation and digital font, coproduction Le Cube, with CNC’s DICRéAM support, 2015.
What advice would you give to a young typeface designers?
Designing typefaces is a complex craft that requires something more than mere technical skills. Writing and by extension typography, is at the crossroads of very different cultural activities, which connects literature, design, linguistics, computer science, publishing or visual arts in general… One must be curious, read a lot, visit the libraries to learn how to open up to these other universes.
What if you had to give yourself advice?
Do not get too scattered.
How do you imagine the future?
I hope this project will serve as an example for art school research. That it is possible to work on academic projects that find applications in the real world. I have often heard of art schools as a place apart, isolated from society. This project connects very different skills around a simple idea. So I’m optimistic about the future, and I imagine that kind of experience will multiply.
By Jean François Porchez, March 2017. All rights reserved.
Aurélien Vret, Painted letter sketch, 21 × 29,7 cm, gouache on paper, 2014.
Aurélien Vret’s biography
Aurélien Vret is a multidisciplinary artist as well typeface designer. Born in Noisy-le-Sec in 1987, he studied visual art at the fine arts school in Toulouse (Isdat). He learned graphic design in Romain-Paul Lefèvre’s studio, digital art with Etienne Cliquet and type design with François Chastanet. He obtained his B.F.A in 2010.
Aurelien Vret has exhibited in various contemporary art institutions in Paris and Toulouse. He participated in a collective exhibition at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris in 2016, organized by the platform early-work.com dedicated to the young artists with whom he collaborates. Thanks to DICRéAM aid from the Ministry of Culture, he currently works on a digital artwork production in collaboration with a digital art center, Le Cube. This piece mix face tracking technologies and typeface interpolation software.
→ Prosaic typeface family
→ Download for free the Prosaic Full Family of 18 fonts in Try-out format
→ Aurélien Vret website
→ Prosaic: A Postmodern vernacular sanserif by Aurélien Vret on the Gazette
→ Download Prosaic pdf specimen.